Removal of Circuit Court Judges Portraits from Courtrooms? WHY?

In a recent opinion letter written by Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Bernhard, the Fairfax County Circuit Court is receiving a lot of attention lately and this time it’s not because of the county’s top prosecutor, Steve Descano, and his unorthodox ways of representing citizens of the county. It’s because an individual who is awaiting his constitutional right to have a jury trial by his peers made a valid point that his ability to have a fair trial may be affected by the many portraits of white judges (some of whom are long deceased) plastered around the courtroom where he is to have his day in court.

Whether you’re a defendant in a civil or criminal trial or perhaps you’re the plaintiff (bringing a cause of action) to court, you deserve to have a fair shot. A fair shot isn’t just having a judge who is fair, impartial, and competent. A fair shot also includes having the people involved in your case (especially if you choose a jury trial) to be free of contamination or bias. 

The issue here is whether a person of color can have a fair trial if he is tried in a courtroom that is gilded with portraits of prior judges of that court who are predominantly white. And the answer one judge, Judge Bernhard, has provided is that if those portraits pose an impediment to justice in that person’s eyes, then they should be taken down. 

This was posted back in August 2020. If you read this carefully, you can see that Judge Bernhard is following up with a response which is consistent with the proposed stance of the Fairfax Circuit Court. I think the Court and the community at large are very lucky to have Judge Bernhard. The community is well served by a jurist who understands the people whom it serves.